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No Horse Can Stop Her: Demi Vollering Claims a Photo-Finish Win at the Strade Bianche Donne

By Megan Flottorp

We are officially well into the Spring Classics and we couldn’t be happier! At Saturday’s high-intensity race, Demi Vollering (Team SD Worx) won the Strade Bianche Donne in a photo-finish sprint against her teammate Lotte Kopecky. Coming together on the iconic final gravel sector, Le Tolfe, the pair set off fireworks when Kopecky attacked out of a group of favourites and served as fuel to the fire Vollering had started when she struck a few kilometres earlier.

Kristen Faulkner (Team Jayco–AlUla) was third to reach the Piazza del Campo in Siena after her teammates from SD Worx closed a one-minute gap she had established after a blast that saw her going solo with 32 km to go.

That last epic climb

This was a race for the climbers, and the nail-biter it resulted in was a testament to the beauty of finishing things on a (very much pun intended) high note. The final drama resulted from Vollering being first to the corner at the top of the climb, which Kopecky had gone past 300 metres from the finish. Ultimately, Vollering came back on the Piazza del Campo and won the competition with her teammate thanks to an expertly timed bike throw.

As is often the case when we witness such dramatic final moments, Vollering had her victory revealed to her by a TV interviewer. A gracious champion, she quickly set about thanking her teammates.

“It was a crazy final. We did very well as a team, the other girls rode super strong today and did everything. Mischa, Niamh, Anna Shackley, Elena, they all did a super good job and then the final playing with Lotte was really cool. I attacked and felt like ‘this is the moment’ and just went how we discussed because this was the plan, too. Then, suddenly, Lotte was with me, and that was very nice, it’s just teammates together, and then you can also go a bit deeper together,” Vollering said upon learning that she won.

A few minutes later, once the shock had subsided and she realised that she had claimed the top spot, she had one person in particular to thank.

“I always really, really liked this race but always worked for my teammates here. It was also always very early for me, and I didn’t have so strong a belief in myself yet. This year, Chantal told me that I really needed to believe in this race, so I’m really thankful for her and the team because they really gave me confidence that I could do this. That really helped me to go into this race.”

Supporting each other in the women’s peloton

Vollering praising the support she received from Chantal van den Broek-Blaak is a touching look behind the scenes of women’s racing. The sport is still really coming into its own, and many races and events remain relatively new to the circuit. For example, the Strade Bianche Donne began in 2015, while the men’s race has been around twice as long.

A route befitting the race’s reputation

As the women continue to win over fans and demonstrate their prowess with each passing year, race organisers are taking notice. Of course, then, it was not just the final moments of this year’s Strade Bianche that were exhilarating.

At 136 kilometres and featuring eight sterrati, the Strade Bianche Donne gave viewers a ton of riveting climbing. And we are talking climbing of the unpaved and very steep variety, too. Despite starting things off with a deceptively gentle flat opener of 2.1 kilometres, sector two is where things get real. Featuring the first double-digit ramps of the day, it made riders work for every inch of its sub-6 km distance.

The tension increased during the fourth gravel sector, La Piana, when a breakaway of four formed. Ultimately it reeled in on the fifth sector, San Martino in Grania, the longest of the race at 9.5 km. However, it wasn’t until Karlijn Swinkels (Team Jumbo-Visma) attacked with 47 km to go that we started to look for potential winners. Bridged by Kristen Faulkner a few kilometres later, the two frontrunners increased their gap to 1:30 minutes.

Going into the penultimate gravel sector of Colle Pinzuto, Faulker was now 1:46 minutes ahead of the gang. In the peloton, Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar Team) pushed hard and split the group as only Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-SUEZ), Pieterse, Liane Lippert (Movistar Team), Kopecky, Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), and Vollering could follow.

Thankfully Vollering wasn’t forced to hold her horses

Vollering emerged with an impressive attack that swiftly reduced the gap to Faulkner. Her plans were almost foiled, though, when a horse ran onto the road in front of her, forcing the Dutchwoman to brake for fear of spooking the horse further by passing it and risking her race.

Thankfully, the horse didn’t stick around, and Vollering took up the chase again once she was in the clear. She remained 59 seconds behind Faulkner, heading onto Le Tolfe, the final gravel sector boasting a steep 18% climb. It was now that Vollering was joined by Kopecky, who also attacked. Leaving behind other favourites and joining forces, Kopecky and Vollering steadfastly ate into Faulkner’s advantage.

Keeping spectators on the edge of their seat, the pair caught Faulkner within the final kilometre at the base of the cobbled climb up to the Piazza del Campo. The dynamic duo swiftly left Faulkner behind and emerged over the crest and into the square. Pushing it with all they had while the line approached, Vollering’s bike throw eventually separated her and secured her victory.

Strade Bianche Donne results

  1. Demi Vollering 03:50:55
  2. Lotte Kopecky + 00
  3. Kristen Faulkner             + 18
  4. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig             + 02:01
  5. Annemiek van Vleuten+ 02:01
  6. Puck Pieterse                         + 02:15
  7. Katarzyna Niewiadoma + 02:16
  8. Liane Lippert + 02:27
  9. Riejanne Markus             + 02:36
  10. Pfeiffer Georgi             + 02:39